Monthly Archives: January, 2011

Tilting at Windmills – A Severe Lack of Reality Dooms Places29 Boondoggle

By. Neil Williamson, President

Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is todon quixote see life  as it is and not as it should be. – Don Quixote

The idea of Miguel de Cervantes’ fictional Don Quixote character and his passion for seeing the world as it “should be” has been foremost in my mind as Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is poised to possibly vote on Places29 master plan as early as Wednesday, February 2nd. 

To be clear, thanks to the work of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and its North Charlottesville Business Council, the document that is moving forward to approval is significantly better than what passed the Planning Commission 5-2 last year.

places29_web Despite those changes, the Free Enterprise Forum contends Places29 should be voted down because it fails to meet the most basic definition of good planning.

The first step in developing any actionable plan is understanding and defining the context of the solution.  The plan would consider and identify sources of funding and its availability, identify regulations which must be satisfied, develop a clear time frame for implementation and define the metrics for success.

Initially, Places29 was designed to be a twenty year plan.  Finding that time constraint too restrictive,  Places29 is now “A Vision Plan”:

The Master Plan guides development of the Places29 area by setting forth a vision of the desired ultimate future condition for the area. There is no timeframe for the vision; in fact it may be decades before the area builds out in fulfillment of it.

However, to implement specific Plan recommendations, such as the recommended transportation improvements and community facilities, the plan relies on a 20-year planning horizon. This 20-year period is based, in part, on the longest realistic population projections available to the County. A 20-year period is also consistent with state requirements, the County’s Comprehensive Plan, and established planning practice. The Master Plan includes an implementation program that groups recommendations into those that will begin during the first five years, those that will begin during the second five years, and those that will begin during the second ten years of the 20-year implementation timeframe.

OK — so there is no time restriction to the vision plan, but the transportation elements will begin in 20 years – Right????

A year ago, Places29 included significant new taxing authority (the SuperTax) this as well as other “creative” funding solutions have been appropriately removed from the text.  The question remains, how will this be funded?  Places29 reports:

The implementation projects are scheduled to begin throughout the 20-year implementation timeframe. There are several reasons for this spacing: first, the projects that will support the recommended Priority Areas should begin first. Many of these projects are needed now to serve existing development and to address the backlog of infrastructure needs. Other projects are not expected to be necessary until further development takes place, and some projects are dependent on completion of an earlier one. And, as noted above, many of the projects are dependent on funding that has not been identified or may not be available for several years.

Other areas in the County also have infrastructure needs that must be met and which may be more immediate than some of the needs in the Places29 area. The County will need to balance the needs of all areas with the available funding.

OK – so we don’t have an identifiable funding source and when such a source is identified Places29 “The Economic Engine of the County” will need to compete with other areas for the available funding.

As the Free Enterprise Forum reported last month, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has started enforcing primary arterial standards on US 29 north of the south fork Rivanna River.  This “Catch29” makes it impossible to build some of the road profiles in Places29.

Places29 envisions a more “urban boulevard” than the VDOT standards would allow.    image

Figure 4.18. A photosimulation showing a local access lane along US 29. photo credit Albemarle Countyurban frontage

OK – our understanding of this “Catch29” makes it impossible to build some of the road profiles in Places29.

It is important to note that while we have been an active participant in the Places29 planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of Places29 for many years. 

While some of the concerns we highlighted have been removed, like the Supertax, others remain.

Places29 – “Don’t know Much about History”

Lack of Citizen Engagement on Places 29

US 29 Consultant Conflict?

Miscounting Cars in Places29

A False Choice on US 29

denied

In our analysis, the “plan” provides pretty renderings but fails to recognize reality.  Our back of the envelope calculation of the transportation plans costed out in Places29 put the price tag  near $200 million dollars.  It is important to note these cost do not include ALL the costs required to build out the new urbanist nirvana expressed in the plan and renderings.

We believe Places29 should be denied by Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors and this planning boondoggle ended.

But now who’s tilting at windmills?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Paradoxical Places29 Planning

By. Neil Williamson

As Albemarle County is moving toward a final vote on the North US 29 Master Plan, also known as Places29, The Free Enterprise Forum thought it might be helpful to consider the paradox of the considerable complexity of the Places29 plan and Albemarle’s stated desire to encourage development in the North US 29 corridor.

100_0336

In 1989, Albemarle County enacted its Comprehensive Plan.

That plan had four chapters and contained 276 pages (including two appendixes).  This was the document to guide the development of the entire county for ten years.

1989 Comprehensive Plan (left)  next to Places 29 (text only)

Fast forward to 2011, Places29 (which only covers the North US 29 Development Area) contains eight chapters with a text of over 130 pages, and appendix of over 200 pages and thirteen technical100_0338 memorandums of up to 75 pages each.

The real kicker is that within this rather verbose document that has endured a six year gestation period  it clearly states the need for even more planning and documents.

The plan calls for two additional small area plans, which the Free Enterprise Forum has called a Planner Employment Act.  While the Master Plan acknowledges that there are no funds identified for the development of the small area plans, it contends that these plans are recommended:

In order to coordinate land uses with recommended road improvements and to offer business and property
owners the opportunity to be involved in the design of the road improvements

Is it possible that this recommendation itself illuminates staff’s recognition of the lack of property owner involvement in the six year Places29 process?

Beyond the lack of property owner buy in to the process, the over arching theme of Places29 is planning complexity.

places29_web While the goal of the Master Plan is to facilitate development in the development area, adding this level of complexity only adds to the cost of the very development Albemarle seeks to encourage. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about Albemarle’s Cost of Complexity regarding the increase in Community Development fees that staff indicated accurately reflected the amount of time it took staff to process an application.   Now by adding this additional layer of Master Planning and, perhaps, Small Area Plans one can only expect such fees to continue to escalate.

When a developer pressed on the issue of duplicative and delaying regulations in 2009, they were told by staff:

“Albemarle County is very proud of the time and expense of our development review process”

Since then a new Board of Supervisors has been elected, and a new “business friendly” philosophy has been evident.  Will this philosophical shift be enough to stop the insidious growth of government planning known as Places29?

Or will the momentum of six years and over a million dollars spent, carry the day, despite the fundamental flaws?

Only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

Greene County Supervisors Approve School Facilities Project, Reveal Encouraging Financial Standing

By Pauline Hovey

Despite initial hesitation from three supervisors at Tuesday night’s (1/25) public hearing, the Greene County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved moving forward on a base $4.7 million proposed school athletics and performing arts facilities project. Supervisors authorized the schools to apply for the loan from the Virginia Public School Authority (VSPA) by the March 11th deadline, with the possibility of increasing that amount to the full $5.3 million requested if the financial concerns of some supervisors are allayed.

For the nearly 11 years this reporter has lived in Greene County and attended public hearings, this marks the first time 100 percent of public comments favored a proposal. No public hesitancy or negative comments were expressed at the hearing held at the Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center at William Monroe High School. From business leaders to coaches, from parents to seniors with no children in the school system, every one of the 25 individuals who addressed the board fully supported the project, many of them expressing concern about the safety and condition of existing facilities. Still, three of the five supervisors hesitated for financial reasons, citing uncertainty about future financing from the state and the county’s ability to address other anticipated department needs and expansions.

During the Board discussion, however, Supervisor Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) revealed the county has a 20-percent cash reserve, based on a recent auditor’s report. “For most counties, having a 10-percent reserve is good, and an accountant’s conservative recommendation is to have a 15-percent reserve,” Frydl said. “We have money above and beyond that, so we have the ability to make this decision.”

Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large) questioned Supervisor Frydl’s comments, which resulted in a request for County Administrator Barry Clark to provide further confirmation from the auditors regarding the actual amount of cash held in reserves. Although the exact amount may be questioned, what is evident is that supervisors have been making fiscally responsible decisions, and some residents expressed their appreciation for such decisions, which have put the county in a position to afford the project without raising taxes.

“The cost of the project would fit into the county’s existing budget,” Frydl noted, adding that the state projections for economic growth are positive, which equates to the potential for budget growth as well. In addition, the county is retiring a school project debt service of $374,000 in the 2011/12 school year budget, and the annual loan payments for the proposed project would be less than the debt that’s being retired.

“This is a county facility as well as a school facility, and it is the core responsibility of government to support this type of facility and the standards for safety,” Frydl stated before offering his support for the entire project, which includes upgrades to baseball/softball fields and stadium area, as well as rebuilding the high school track, which is severely cracked and hazardous.

This project has been discussed, debated, and revised with many opportunities for public input since it was first proposed last summer. In fact, Chairman Catalano, known for his conservative views, said he was pleased with “the transparency of the project,” even though “my #1 concern is savings in debt service.” Catalano expressed concern with the Virginia General Assembly possibly cutting state funding to the schools, producing a “state shortfall” in next year’s budget. “I agree the facilities enhance the package of Greene County, and I agree something needs to be done,” he said before opening the floor for board discussion.

“Financing is as good as we’ll ever get. The timing is good. Our budget has been honed for this,” Supervisor Carl Schmitt (at-large) offered. “We have the opportunity to do this now before we get other, more pressing school needs coming down on us. In terms of revenue, I’m seeing positive results. Our reserves are up. And we have a good chance of this not being as difficult a revenue year as in the past. In my view, this is a well-defined project, we can afford it, and I urge the supervisors to vote for it.”

“My #1 concern is safety,” Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe) said, indicating he supported the base bid but was concerned about the county’s financial standing in lieu of the inability of the former treasurer to reconcile reports monthly. He proposed waiting to receive an updated treasurer’s report before determining whether to support the entire project at $5.3 million.

Citing a sluggish economy and concerns about meeting current financial obligations and the expected continued increase in student enrollment, Supervisor Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville district) noted he was against the project, given “the size and scope of the total proposal.” He suggested “the project should be revisited” and not be considered “an all or nothing proposal.”

Schmitt stated that what’s being proposed for upgrades and improvements to the facilities is “at the bottom of the heap,” meaning the school administration is “asking for basic facilities that bring us up to at least an acceptable level.” He added that the project involves facilities “not just for the schools, but for the community,” noting that the Performing Arts Center is “in constant use” by the community, and numerous citizens attend sporting events. “The facilities and programs our schools support are important to the fabric of our community,” he said.

Concerned the county would miss the loan application deadline, Schmitt offered a motion to authorize the schools apply for the VPSA loan for the base bid and the supervisors revisit their financial situation at their March 21 meeting, at which time the Virginia legislature will have met, the treasurer’s revenues will have been reconciled, and their financial situation should be more certain going forward.

The project’s six-member steering committee, which included and encouraged public input in all meetings during the planning process, established priorities by breaking up the project into “must do,” “should do,” and “would do” items. On the “must do” list are items that unquestionably need upgrading, rebuilding, or replacing. The steering committee was appointed by the Board of Supervisors specifically for the project.  Serving on the steering committee were School Board members Darcy Higgins and Michelle Flynn (board chair); Superintendent of Schools David Jeck; Bob Burkholder, a member of the Ruritans and longtime resident; Katie Brunelle, athletics director; and Supervisor Frydl.

Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Supervisors Select Fairchild

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative

Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously selected Mr. Chris Fairchild (Rivanna District) to fill the unexpired term of Mr. Gene Ott (Rivanna), who resigned. Mr. Fairchild, who was a late entry, is a local businessman, and longtime participant in county activities. Seven individuals vied for the seat.

Fairchild formerly headed the county’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) but, according to some, was reluctant to push for an EDC endorsement of the contentious proposal to bring water to Zion Crossroads business area of the county. He is expected to support hiring a full time Economic Development Coordinator, something supervisors have pressed for, but yet to accomplish.

Fairchild became embroiled in a last minute controversy when he was accused of owing the county some $5,000. While he said privately that the tax bills were in error, he paid the disputed amount before the meeting.

The supervisors also voted unanimously to amend its controversial ordinance on the county seal to ensure that it followed the Commonwealth’s statute. The vote came after a closed session to discuss implications of a lawsuit filed against the county by. Mr. Bryan Rothamel, the publisher of FlucoBlog.com, charged that the county ordinance infringes on his freedom of speech.

The county Finance Director, Ms. Renee Hoover, reported that the county’s revenue collection has improved and that currently collections are stronger than at the beginning of the fiscal year.

“Catch-29”

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

While Joseph Heller coined the phrase “Catch-22” in his novel by that name in 1961, the cities of Danville and Lynchburg must certainly believe they are caught in a “Catch-29” regarding their efforts to get around the Charlottesville bottleneck on US 29.

Merriam-Webster defines a Catch-22 as:

1 : a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule  also : the circumstance or rule that denies a solution

2 a : an illogical, unreasonable, or senseless situation b : a measure or policy whose effect is the opposite of what was intended c : a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives

Virginia’s General Assembly has heard for many years the calls from localities south of Charlottesville pleading for a bypass.  Interestingly there is a law on the books that seems to speak to Charlottesville’s specific situation.  Reminding the gentle reader that I am not an attorney, I find this section from Virginia Code § 33.1-39 – Bypasses through or around cities and incorporated towns most interesting:

33.1-44 in any case where a municipality refuses to contribute to the construction of a bypass or an extension or connection of the primary system within said municipality the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner may construct such bypass or extension and connection without any contribution by the municipality when the Board determines that such bypass or extension and connection is primarily rural in character and that the most desirable and economical location is within said municipality. Any bypass or extension and connection built under this provision shall be maintained by the Commissioner as a part of the primary system and the municipality shall receive no payment for such bypass or extension and connection under § 33.1-41.1.

If the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner (at the direction of the Commonwealth Transportation Board) could build the bypass, and they have a desire for a Charlottesville bypass [not a foregone conclusion] why hasn’t it been done [or at least further discussed]?

Because Federal funding and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.  According to the Federal Highway Administration:

What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)?
A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is defined in Federal Transportation Legislation (23 USC 134(b) and 49 USC 5303(c)) as the designated local decision making body that is responsible for carrying out the metropolitan transportation planning process. An MPO must be designated for each urban area with a population of more than 50,000 people (i.e., for each Urbanized Area (UZA) defined in the most recent decennial Census).

Who sits on the policy board for the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO?  The voting members:

  • Satyendra Huja, Charlottesville City Council
  • Duane Snow, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • Kristin Szakos, Charlottesville City Council
  • Rodney Thomas, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • James Utterback, VDOT Culpeper District Administrator

The “Catch-29” is that the very law designed to work around (pun intended) recalcitrant local officials to put forward state transportation priorities is dependent on local officials approval to gain funding.

With the Defense Intelligence Agency utilizing US 29 for its traffic flow, one might believe the corridor has increased in its strategic importance as a part of the National Highway System.  If so,  The Free Enterprise Forum is curious when will Federal Officials step in and mandate a bypass be built to ensure traffic throughput is maintained? 

Or perhaps with the newly enforced primary arterial VDOT regulations that are in direct conflict with Places29 Vision, they have decided US 29 (at least North of the river crossing) will be designed to maximize transportation functions. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

 

 

 

CTB Punts on US29 Corridor Study

By. Neil Williamson, President

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has again failed to address the recommendations of their Route 29 Corridor Study subcommittee.  This inaction leaves the communities along US29 in limbo regarding the conclusions from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) $1.5 Million dollar study.

By means of background, the CTB is appointed by the Governor and is charged with establishing the administrative policies of Virginia’s transportation policies.  The 17 member panel allocates highway funding to specific projects and locates routes.  In addition the CTB provides funding for airports, seaports and public transportation.

In December of 2009, the CTB did not care for the Route 29 Corridor Study report they received and sent the consultant back to the drawing board.  In their resolution at that time they said, in part:

WHEREAS, the Board, while acknowledging the work of the consultant team, has determined that the process used to develop the Blueprint and recommendation of specific improvements was flawed, in that:

• the Blueprint fails to include several recommendations of the consultant team that were removed prior to presentation to the Board, some of which were apparently initially opposed or favored by the localities affected, which removal the Board views was premature;

The following January, the CTB appointed a subcommittee to get this process to a conclusion.  After a series of meetings, the subcommittee recognized they would not be able to meet the CTB’s stated deadline, so they requested an extension.

On September 15, 2010 the CTB extended the extended deadline with yet another resolution that read in part:

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Commonwealth Transportation Board does modify the previously approved resolution and hereby directs the Board Subcommittee to continue work on the Board’s directives and present its recommendations at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board on December 8, 2010.[emphasis added]

In an ironic twist the Charlottesville Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was scheduled to present to the CTB at their December 8, 2010 meeting. 

But somehow, the CTB did not see fit to add the Route 29 Corridor study to its December 8 agenda. 

Noting this omission, The Free Enterprise Forum planned to attend the January 19th meeting of the CTB in Richmond to hear the subcommittee report.  On January 18th, we were contacted by CTB staff indicating the issue would not be on the January agenda.  When pressed, staff was “hopeful” that it would be on the February 16 agenda.

US 29 is a highway of National Significance,  The Free Enterprise Forum calls for the Commonwealth Transportation Board to accept or reject  their subcommittee’s report on the February agenda. 

The community deserves better than yet another punt.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

 

Greene Planning Commissioners Review CIP Project Requests as County Budget Preparations Loom

By Pauline Hovey, Field Officer

In the midst of Greene County’s annual update and review of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the Planning Commission held a public hearing earlier this week on the various departments’ project requests. The public offered no input on the CIP, which now moves on to the Board of Supervisors to consider in the annual budget process.

Each department was directed to submit projected needs for the next 10 years, estimating the cost, source of funds, and level of use. Commissioners did not prioritize the items listed, although they did ask questions and offer comments about the extensive items being proposed. Several departments requested new facilities, either because their current facility is outdated, overcrowded, dilapidated, or, as in the case of the Greene County Transit and the Parks and Recreation Department comfort station, nonexistent. In commenting on the Parks and Recreation Dept. requests, Vice Chairman Bill Martin expressed concern about the nonexistent restroom facilities at the park, which is used extensively for sports, social, and community events. “My main concern is health and sanitation,” Commissioner Martin said. “I’ve seen adults and kids out there, they get hot and sweaty, they use the port-a-john, and there’s no place for them to wash their hands, and then they eat food. It’s really a public health issue.” Martin has frequented the park both for exercise and in his capacity as a Ruritan, and he recalls selling food during one fundraiser when he witnessed children using the port-a-john and coming over to buy food afterwards.

Cost for the comfort station is estimated at $120,000, which was based on bids the department received several months ago and are now invalid. Additional needs and requests for the upcoming fiscal year include $20,000 for a generator for the Stanardsville Fire Department; $87,200 for upgrades to the county administration building, which includes the cost of installing fire alarms that currently do not exist; $1.5 million for a new building for the Rescue Squad, which is housed in a converted old home that is outdated and inefficient and cannot accommodate all the rescue vehicles currently owned; $3.475 million for county infrastructure projects such as extending well and water impoundment resources; $250,000 for the Economic Development Authority to upgrade high-speed Internet in the business park; and $5.3 million for the schools facilities project, which will be the subject of a public hearing at the Board of Supervisors meeting on January 25.

In its request for a new building, the Sheriff’s department suggested merging the sheriff’s office with other departments in need of new facilities to save the county money. “Thinking strategically, I think the sheriff is onto something,” Commissioner Martin said. “Maybe the county needs to look at consolidating multiple departments under one or fewer roofs than is being offered.”

Several departments did not provide the requested information for the CIP. These included the Animal Shelter, Commissioner of Revenue, Registrar, Free Clinic, Solid Waste, and Virginia Department of Health. Chairman Norman Slezak noted, “We have a big hole with these departments missing, and I would hate to send this forward without that information.”

The commissioners are not responsible for establishing priorities or making suggestions in their CIP review. They simply recommended to move the CIP forward with their comments to the Board of Supervisors. “It’s our job to just review the CIP for consistencies and inconsistencies and make sure it jives with the comprehensive plan,” Martin explained. It will now be in the hands of the supervisors as to how to use this information going forward in the budget process.

VDOT Puts the Brakes on Places29?

By. Neil Williamson, President

places29_webAfter over 6 years of study, Albemarle County’s Master Plan for the North US 29 Development areas (Places29) is headed to a vote, possibly as early as  February 2nd.  At the same time the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has informed land owners and Albemarle County of its intention to enforce design guidelines that will make the Places29 Vision impossible to achieve.

VDOT logo How, and why, after 1.2 million dollars of study ($400,000 VDOT money), does VDOT leave Places29 at the altar?

It is an example of “Vision Collision”

Please let me explain.

Places29 envisions US 29 as:

Pedestrian activity in an area designated Urban Frontage is different for US 29 than on other Entrance Corridor streets. On US 29, pedestrian activity is focused primarily on access to mass transit, as well as the ability to walk safely and conveniently for short distances along the corridor. The expected US 29 Urban Frontage condition is illustrated in Figure 7.3 below.image

Figure 7.3. A cross section of US 29 showing an Urban Frontage. Note that an 8 – 12 foot
pedestrian path may be substituted for the sidewalk on one side.

VDOT sees the roads primary responsibility for moving vehicular traffic.  To that end they are now requiring developers use the “Geometric Design Standard for Urban Principal Arterial System (GS-5)” for the US 29 corridor north of the South Fork Rivanna River bridge. Such a road is to be designed for either 50 mph (North to Airport Road) or 60 mph (North of Airport Road). 

At the heart of the issue is VDOT’s 2005 road classification map that defined US 29 as an Urban Principal Arterial which is what defines the standards to which US 29 must be constructed.

Other important design requirements include:  a prohibition of utilities from being placed under the main travel lanes (a water/sewer line currently runs through US29 median), paved shoulders of 8’ on each side of each travel way, a minimum of 6’ ditch on either side of each travel way, to provide the required “clear zone”.

The term “clear zone” is used to describe the unobstructed, traversable area provided beyond the edge of the traveled way for the recovery of an errant vehicle. The clear zone includes shoulders, bike lanes, parking lanes and auxiliary lanes (except those auxiliary lanes that function like through lanes). Clear zone distances are based upon traffic volume, speed, and embankment slopes.

A recoverable area is to be provided that is clear of all unyielding obstacles such as trees, sign supports, utility poles, light poles, or any other fixed objects that might severely damage an out-of-control vehicle (See 2004 AASHTO A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, Chapter 5). Determining a practical clear zone often involves a series of compromises between absolute safety, engineering judgment, environmental and economic
constraints. Additional information is available in AASHTO’s Roadside Design Guide.
When establishing a full-width clear zone in an urban area is not practical due to right of way constraints, consideration should be given to establishing a reduced clear zone or incorporating as many clear zone concepts as practical such as removing roadside objects or making them crashworthy. The minimum requirement for this scenario is 1.5 ft. lateral offset. [Emphasis added – nw]

In another “Vision Collision”, Places29 foresees curb and gutter with street trees along most portions of  US 29.  VDOT’s standards clearly discourage such development and wants to see light poles and other utilities pushed to the other side of the sidewalk:

Whenever adequate right of way is available, urban projects should be designed with shoulders in lieu of curbs (unless city ordinances require otherwise) and clear zone widths should be consistent with the requirements for roadways with shoulders. (See 2004 AASHTO “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets”, Chapter 7). The justification for providing a curb is to be documented in the project file (e.g. Preliminary Field Inspection Report, recommendation from Right of Way and Utilities Division, etc.).

High-Speed Roadways with curb
For roadways with design speeds of > 50 mph, curb should ONLY be utilized in special situations. These situations may include, but are not limited to the following:
– Drainage considerations
– Need for access control
– Right of way restrictions
Source: AASHTO Green Book, Chapter 4
When necessary to utilize curb on a roadway with a design speed > 50 mph for one of the situations listed above, the minimum lateral offset distance is 1.5 feet measured from the face of curb. However, consideration should be given to providing more than the minimum lateral offset to obstructions (signs, utility poles, luminaire supports, fire hydrants, etc. including breakaway devices), where practical, by placing fixed objects behind the sidewalk.

After checking with a transportation engineer source familiar with VDOT regulations we were told,

North of the South Fork Rivanna Bridge, due to speed limit of 50 to 60 mph mountable curb (CG-7) would be required along the throughway and so the only way you’ll get away with the 1.5’ lateral offsite to any obstruction that is not “breakway” is with the installation of guardrail prior to the obstruction.

How many Places29 renderings included significant guardrail?

To be clear if VDOT and Places29 are in conflict, how would a developer get relief?

The Free Enterprise Forum understands that any reduction in standard would be considered a reduction in safety of the road, the approval of any waiver rests not with Albemarle County but with the State Location and Design Engineer and perhaps the  Federal Highway Administration because the road is on the National Highway System inventory.

So why now?  Why is VDOT enforcing this design standard? 

Some have conjectured this new push for throughput on US 29 is based on a realization by upper VDOT management that the US 29 Bypass is not going to happen.  If there is no bypass, there is no alternate route if US 29 becomes blocked, thus the new “clear zone” widened shoulder will permit traffic to flow even in the event of a traffic incident. 

Where does this leave Places29?

The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are so sick of discussing Places29 that they may pass it on as early as February 2nd. 

If the Albemarle Board of Supervisors does pass Places29, without fundamental changes (including real consideration of a bypass option), we believe VDOT will continue to press the arterial standards.  If forced to meet this “new” standard, many approved developments may not be able to be achieved. urban frontage

Places29 will then be nothing more than an expensive book of pretty pictures that hindered rather than enhanced development opportunities in the development areas. 

Maybe that was the idea all along.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

Want to Increase Walkability? Get Rid of the Cars

By. Neil Williamson

The lead of the January 9th Washington Post article was enough to give anyone pause:

Fairfax County residents will have a harder time finding a free parking space in some neighborhoods, if transportation planners get their way.

No parking The article outlines a proposal to create a maximum limit for number of spaces in new commercial and residential developments near Metro stations.  The rationale given is these generally high density Transit-Oriented-Developments (TOD) don’t need  parking – everyone should take the train. Therefore the local government, not the market,  is seeking to severely restrict the number of parking spaces a developer may choose to provide for a project.

Under the current ordinances a new town home must have at least 2.75 parking spaces per dwelling.  Under the draft recommendations, parking would be limited to 1.75 spaces per dwelling unit. [emphasis added – nw]

By means of background, Fairfax County has a population of about a million people and covers roughly 400 square miles.

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth is quoted in the article:

We often like to say that too much parking can be a traffic magnet.  If we’re going to address traffic and make a walkable community in Fairfax, its important to get the parking right.”

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that the new planning goal is to limit transportation choices for citizens.  parking ticket By forcing developers to limit parking options, the planners behind this proposal believe they are funneling people into mass transit; they’re wrong.  The lack of parking will lead to an increase in illegal parking (often on the skinny roads favored by New Urbanism) creating a safety issue and therefore a new citizen demand for parking enforcement. 

To be deemed a success, this new parking proposal will limit consumer transportation choices thus increasing walkability and transit use.  Such logic reminds me of the philosophy of comedian Stephen Wright who famously said:

“Anywhere is walking distance, if you’ve got the time.”

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene County Voters Turn Out for Special Election

By Pauline Hovey, Field Officer

On a frigid day riddled with snowflakes, nearly one-quarter of Greene County residents turned out to vote in a special election held in the aftermath of former treasurer Gail Berry’s resignation last September.

With more than 60 percent of the vote, Stephanie Allen Deal, a native of Greene County and a Certified Public Accountant with 20 years of accounting experience, easily won over six other contenders. Many citizens seemed surprised by the overwhelming majority of votes she received in a field that included many prominent Greene County family names.

“I was surprised at the lopsided nature of the results,” said Supervisor Carl Schmitt (at-large). “I expected a greater distribution of votes.” But no matter the imbalanced results, Schmitt and his fellow board members are pleased to have this critical position filled. “It certainly helps the board to know we have a new treasurer and will be able to put the energy and attention to that office,” he said.

With allegations that the previous treasurer had not been reconciling accounts on a monthly basis, Deal can expect the Board of Supervisors to monitor her office for accountability right from the start. Supervisors already have hinted at previous meetings they would require certain financial statements once the position was filled and are anxious to reconcile accounts. “There has been a bit of uncertainty because of the unreconciled reports,” Schmitt said. “This position is critical to our county. Without the ability to collect revenue, pay bills, and keep track of finances, any business will get into deep trouble. We need this job to be done ethically, reliably, and well, so it’s really important who we have in that position.”

In terms of experience, Ms. Deal currently holds the position of assistant controller at the Darden School Foundation and has a B.S. degree from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. She will serve as treasurer until November of this year, when Greene County residents will again elect a Treasurer, this time to serve a full four-year term. At that time, residents will also be electing the Commonwealth Attorney, the Commissioner of Revenue, the Sheriff, three School Board members, and three Board of Supervisors members whose terms will be expiring.

“All in all, I was very proud of the county, the way it conducted itself in this election, and the way our candidates conducted themselves,” Supervisor Schmitt added. “The candidates’ forum couldn’t have been better in terms of its structure and the way our residents handled themselves in terms of the questions asked. It was an example of a good form of democracy at work.”

According to Virginia’s State Compensation Board:

Virginia’s city and county Treasurers are the chief financial officers for their localities, collecting taxes and local fees, and making payments on behalf of the local government. The Treasurer is responsible for every form of revenue which comes to his or her locality including:

  • Real estate taxes
  • Personal property taxes
  • License taxes
  • Water and sewage charges
  • Permit fees
  • State income tax
  • Court, Sheriff and Clerk fees

Treasurers also manage the investment of local funds and maintain records of local finances.

The elected post of Treasurer was created in the Virginia Constitution of 1870. The Treasurer’s independent status as an elected official ensures that local funds will be collected, invested and spent by an officer who reports directly to the people.